Foon Rhee

The Numbers Crunch: Unemployment is down, but not for blacks and Hispanics

Audience members listen to Hillary Clinton speak Tuesday at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. “There are still very real barriers holding back African-Americans from fully participating in our economy and our society,” she said.
Audience members listen to Hillary Clinton speak Tuesday at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. “There are still very real barriers holding back African-Americans from fully participating in our economy and our society,” she said. Associated Press

While recent headlines trumpet the lowest unemployment rates in years, since before the Great Recession, most of us know that the recovery has been uneven across California and the country.

Also hidden beneath the overall economic progress are extreme and troubling racial disparities.

A new analysis points out that the lowest black jobless rate of any state during the fourth quarter of 2015 – 6.7 percent in Virginia – was equal to the highest white unemployment rate, in West Virginia.

In many states, the jobless rate for African Americans is still at or near double digits, and in 20 states, including California, the rate is at least double that for whites, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

While in 20 states, again including California, the white unemployment rate has dropped to pre-recession levels or lower, that’s true for African Americans in only nine states and for Hispanics in just five.

Nationally, African Americans had the highest unemployment rate in December, at 8.3 percent, followed by Latinos at 6.3 percent, whites at 4.5 percent and Asians at 4.0 percent.

California’s overall jobless rate was 5.8 percent in the fourth quarter, but that included 10.9 percent for blacks, 7.2 percent among Hispanics, 4.4 percent for whites and 4.1 percent for Asians, according to the study.

More discouraging, while the unemployment rate has dropped slightly among whites and Asians in California since the fourth quarter of 2007, just as the recession started, it is actually up 1.1 percentage points among African Americans and 0.3 points higher for Hispanics.

The recovery clearly isn’t bringing better times to all communities.

The Democratic presidential candidates, at least, are talking in some detail about racial disparities as they seek key endorsements from African American and Latino leaders, and as they campaign in Nevada, where Hispanics are a key force for Saturday’s caucuses, and toward South Carolina, where black voters are crucial for the Feb. 27 primary.

During a town hall Thursday night in Las Vegas hosted by MSNBC and Telemundo, Bernie Sanders said it is “simply unacceptable” that 35 percent of African American children are poor, while Hillary Clinton said it’s unfair that whites are more likely to get mortgages than blacks or Latinos.

In a speech Tuesday in Harlem, Clinton vowed to break down barriers to help black families move up the economic ladder.

And during a debate last week, Sanders pointed out that blacks were hit harder by the recession and are still feeling the effects. Fact-checkers later determined that he may have overstated some of the unemployment numbers.

The real ones are bad enough.

By the numbers

Unemployment rates by racial group (when the sample size was large enough) in the fourth quarter of 2015 in selected states:

  • California: white, 4.4 %; black, 10.9%; Hispanic, 7.2%; Asian, 4.1%
  • Arizona: white, 4.2%; Hispanic, 7.8%
  • Colorado: white, 3.3%; Hispanic, 5.8%
  • Florida: white, 4.0%; black, 8.2%; Hispanic, 5.5%
  • Nevada: white, 5.0%; Hispanic, 7.9%
  • New York: white, 3.8%; black, 7.7%; Hispanic, 5.6%; Asian, 4.3%
  • Oregon: white, 5.5%; Hispanic, 7.4%
  • Texas: white, 3.6%; black, 7.6%; Hispanic, 5.1%; Asian, 2.6%
  • Washington: white, 4.9%; Hispanic, 5.3%; Asian, 3.1%

Source: Economic Policy Institute

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